The Joy, Stress, and Vulnerability of the Holidays: 10 Ways to deal with Eustress

© Susan Anderson Dec 15 2014

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Excited about the holidays? Stressed out by them?  Both?

Just when you thought happiness was a positive thing, someone has to come up with Eustress – the stress you get from feeling good.  Eustress is the flip side of distress – its etymology: eu = good and stress= stretching apart.

Eustress is the heightened emotional arousal that comes from experiencing something good and exciting. It can propel you forward in positive ways, but it can also leave you feeling slightly on edge, expectant, maybe a little extra vulnerable. When you let Outer Child get in on the act, mischief can result.

Outer Child is the part of the personality that can act out these feelings in inappropriate ways, i.e. lashing out, over-isolating, over-indulging.  Outer is the wayward, self sabotaging hidden nemesis we all share that can emerge when we least expect it, including during times of celebration.

It is pretty well understood that when people experience a big windfall, such as winning the ten million dollar lottery, it can send them on an emotional rollercoaster.  The highs and lows can become extreme enough to mimic bi-polar disorder. In the aroused state of eustress, they may tend to go on emotional binges, have trouble sleeping, get into conflict with others, or make rash decisions.  There are also those who have achieved sudden fame – let’s say they become overnight rock or movie stars – and who have expressed feeling ungrounded by the additional layers stress and pressure. It has caused some of them to act out in uncharacteristic ways, i.e. overindulging in drugs, sex, acts of bravado, risk taking, and other self destructive behaviors – all evidence that Outer Child got high on the eustress and took over.

There are many examples of how eustress resulting from sustained excitement and exhilaration can create an intensity that can cause us to brim over the edge of our usual boundaries.  But remember, eustress is supposed to be good.

So with the holidays on top of us, here are 10 ways to make positive use of the eustress and to keep our Outer Child under wraps.

  1. Acknowledge that the sights, smells, and sounds of holidays may hearken back to earlier times. The glowing lights, the scent of freshly cut pine, the tinkling of bells – all of these can tug at our heartstrings, and depending on our current circumstances, can increase our sense of loss, loneliness, and nostalgia for what has passed.
  2. Also recognize that the hubbub of holiday activity – the celebratory whirl of people around you – can evoke subliminal feelings of abandonment – a universal angst that trickles beneath the surface and that can bubble to the surface during this time of year.  Validate and accommodate these feelings by being extra kind and loving toward yourself.
  3. Give yourself permission to feel all of your feelings with an eye for being especially self accepting and self nurturing.  Consider writing your feelings into your journal and or sharing them with a trusted friend or therapist.
  4. Stay on top of your Outer Child.   Outer’s over-the-top behaviors can be easily triggered by holiday eustress.  Recognize that Outer is always looking for an excuse to sabotage your best laid plans by overeating, over-drinking, over-emoting, or over-avoiding.
  5. Plan: Build in holiday activities that bring you in contact with people you care about.  Use times of togetherness to express your love and connection to others, rather than opportunities to indulge Outer Child’s excesses.
  6. Use holiday eustress as an opportunity to enhance your relationship with yourself.  Go through the holidays consciously, using your senses of sight, sound, small, and touch to take in all that it has to offer.  Be in the moment by tuning into the sensations and feelings evoked during this special season, sustaining awareness of yourself, your experiences, and your reactions.
  7. Build in activities that celebrate not only your connectedness to others, but your separateness – your capacity to stand on your own two feet.  Celebrate the separateness we all share as human beings regardless of whether we’re coupled, ensconced in a family, or completely alone.  Plan and consciously enjoy at least one holiday activity that you can fully experience by yourself, such as making a solo visit to a museum or attending a concert on your own.  Drink in the experience solely for your own sake.
  8. Extend your special kindness and sensitivity to those you come in contact with, including people who may be peripheral to you, based on your awareness that they may be more vulnerable than usual at this evocative time of year – in need of extra human connection even, whether they are conscious of it or not.
  9. Make a resolution (New Years?) to become fully engaged in a growth-promoting program and use its mental exercises to incrementally improve your capacity for life and love during the New Year.
  10. Enjoy the holidays!  May your eustress be happy and productive!


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